Roy “Big Country” Nelson suggested a way to spice up the UFC’s heavyweight division during his pre-hype media availability in Saitama.

Nelson’s suggestion of a tournament pitting the top heavyweights against each other has a very nice ring to it, one which most, if not all, MMA fans would gravitate towards. There are certainly a good number of pitfalls to something like this scenario but it is something fun to think about.

So, this is The MMA Corner’s Sweet 16 Heavyweight Tournament. It’s a spur of the moment thing so there’s bound to be a fair of share of debate and issues but here are a few guidelines, and a major caveat that these rankings come just days before Nelson’s fight against Josh Barnett in Japan and many other bouts already booked:

*The current champion and the top 15 fighters, according to the official UFC rankings, are in the event.

*Brackets would be based on current rankings.

*Tournament quarter-finals are split into two events with two fights on each; semi-finals are held on the same card. This is not a one-night event. We’re looking at this as a year-long tourney to accommodate for healing time for the fighters and maximize exposure.

#1 Fabricio Werdum (20-5-1) vs. #16 Alexey Oliynyk
Way back in 2008, Werdum was catapulted out of the UFC by Junior Dos Santos’ punching barrage. He notched a couple of so-so wins, but then on a June night in 2010, Werdum quite likely the biggest upset in MMA history. The Brazilian tangled with Greatest Of All-Time frontrunner Fedor Emelianenko, and instead of becoming another fallen victim to “The Last Emperor”, Werdum forced a first-round submission victory that rocked the sport. He came back to the UFC and beat Roy Nelson, Minotauro Nogueira, Travis Browne, and Mark Hunt. Then this past June, Werdum claimed the heavyweight belt with a dominating performance against Cain Velasquez. Here his Russian foe in the opening round sports 50 career wins plus an 11-fight winning streak that includes wins over Jared Rosholt, Anthony Hamilton, Mirko Cro Cop, and Jeff Monson. Still, this should be Velasquez’s to take with ease considering his vast abundance of skills and an opponent who is 38 years old.

#2 Cain Velasquez vs. #15 Stefan Struve (26-7)
The former champ gets a pretty easy ride in the opening round. Velasquez is far and away the best wrestler in the division, and arguably, the best overall athlete. He’s beaten everybody including both Junior Dos Santos and Antonio Silva twice over. Velasquez is a true beast but there have been serious questions raised about game planning twice in his career. The first came against Brock Lesnar and he was bested in Round 1, and very recently, it was an error in adjusting to altitude which left him prey to Fabricio Werdum in a title fight. At one time, Struve was a pretty high prospect, but he’s never managed that one win which would really elevate him, save for a KO of Stipe Miocic in 2012. Health problems haven’t helped his cause, nor have losses to Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, Travis Browne, Roy Nelson, and Junior Dos Santos.

#3 Junior Dos Santos (17-3) vs. #14 Matt Mitrione (9-4)
It’s been a bit of an up-and-down run for the former champ since mid-2012 when he KO’d Velasquez in just over a minute. A super puncher, he’s lost twice to Velasquez to round out their trilogy, but overall there’s several quality wins including those over Mark Hunt and Stipe Miocic. While the knockout of Velasquez was stunning, perhaps Dos Santos’ most devastating KO came way back in 2008 in his UFC debut when he blasted now-champ Fabricio Werdum right out of the UFC. He’s got a big target to hit in Mitrione. The ex-football player and former TUF finalist has lost several key bouts along the way, and probably has little chance for an upset.

#4 Stipe Miocic (13-2) vs. #13 Antonio Silva (19-7-1)
Miocic has very quietly become a top-dog in the division, though it’s quite conceivable that this could be a first-round upset. Miocic has beaten the likes of Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson, but that loss to Junior Dos Santos sticks out like a sore thumb. In the past couple of years, Silva is best-known for the spectacular brawl against Hunt that ended in a draw. Yes, he’s lost badly since, but he’s still the guy that stunned the world with his brutal TKO of Fedor Emelianenko in 2011.

#5 Andrei Arlovski (25-10-1) vs. #12 Roy Nelson (20-11)
Once a champ and then seemingly on the scrapheap of MMA, yet out of nowhere Arlovski is back in the picture and on a tear. He’s rattled off six wins in a row besting a bunch that features Frank Mir, Travis Browne, and Antonio Silva. He’s a destroyer when on his game. Nelson is definitely going to be fan favorite but he’s way on the downside of his career having only one win in his last five. He’d be a superb longshot bet, and when they fought before in 2008 under the EliteXC banner, Nelson scored a second-round KO.

#6 Travis Browne (17-3-1) vs. #11 Frank Mir (18-10)
Browne is coming off one of the most amazing knockdown-drag ‘em out rounds in UFC history but he came out of it on the wrong end of first-round TKO loss to Andrei Arlovski. He took the reigning champ the distance in 2014, and boasts wins over Josh Barnett and Alistair Overeem in another first-round barnburner. Mir is yet another former champ, and another fighter on somewhat of a resurgence with 2015 wins over Antonio Silva and Todd Duffee. If in shape and motivated, Mir is a staggering talent with exceptional jiu-jitsu and vastly improved striking.

#7 Ben Rothwell (35-9) vs. #10 Alistair Overeem (39-14-1)
Rothwell could be the most appealing darkhorse to win the whole thing. He hasn’t fought much in recent times but put it on Matt Mitrione back in June and seemed re-ignited with a new persona that illustrated a mean streak. He has some good wins but has lost to Mark Hunt, Cain Velasquez and Andrei Arlovski. Overeem’s gas tank is always a huge question but he has managed wins in three of his last four, two of which were 15-minute verdicts. He has bested Roy Nelson and Frank Mir but the biggest of his more-recent highlight wins was the MMA career-ending blitzkrieg he put on Brock Lesnar.

#8 Mark Hunt (10-10-1) vs. #9 Josh Barnett (33-7)
Hunt is, without a doubt, the most exceptional all-out brawler of the elite group. That’s a good thing, and a bad thing. When he clashed with Barnett in 2006, Hunt was tapped out via kimura in just over two minutes. There are several big ifs in this fight, the two most prominent being if massive puncher Hunt catches Barnett on the chin in the opening moments, and if uber-skilled grappling master Barnett can get ahold of Hunt fast. Either way, it’s over very early. Both are longtime fan favorites but well on the downside of their careers by a long ways.

A couple of very big hiccups come up with a tournament like this especially the very real possibility of long (upwards of six months) medical suspension for a fighter after a first-round bout.

Alternates would also have to be at the ready if a fighter is out longer than six months. Candidates might include Mirko Cro Cop, Brendan Schaub, Todd Duffee, and Anthony Hamilton. The UFC also could bolster that cast by signing free agents or other promotions’ top talents such as Vitaly Minakov, Damian Grabowski and Blagoy Ivanov.

About The Author

Scott Zerr
Staff Writer

Scott joins The MMA Corner having spent the last 14 years in mixed martial arts as Director of Media & Fighter Relations for the Maximum Fighting Championship. He will provide The MMA Corner with insight on breaking news in the sport, plus an insider's perspective on business developments, matchmaking, fighter signings, and much more. In addition to his longtime work in MMA, Scott was a sports reporter before moving into media relations and marketing. After growing up and working in Edmonton, Alberta, Scott has since moved to Bakersfield, California to be with his wife Christina (an avid fight fan, thank goodness) and kids.